CLEVELAND — It is possible that one of the most highly anticipated sports documentaries of all-time already lived up to the hype, despite viewers only having an opportunity to watch the first two of a 10-part series.
That was my first takeaway late Sunday evening after enjoying over two hours of the ESPN documentary ‘The Last Dance,’ an unmatched, behind the scenes glimpse into Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ 1997-1998 season.
I’m no film critic or cinematography expert, but clearly ESPN put an emphasis on fascinating raw footage most people have never had access to, as well as candid interviews with some of the biggest names in the game.
My second takeaway and perhaps the most glaring was how incredibly different today’s NBA is compared to the eras ‘The Last Dance’ took us back to on Sunday evening.
Not to sound like a know-it-all, but I believe most sports fans or viewers on Sunday understood the type of competitor and winner Jordan was. Yes, probably not the nicest guy, but his willingness to do whatever it takes to win, never-before-seen in all of professional sport.
Perhaps Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause and his arrogance that was revealed Sunday night was a memory refresher for some, while Scottie Pippen may finally be getting the respect he’s always deserved as Jordan’s ultimate teammate (while being grossly underpaid). Without Pippen, there probably would not be six titles. Just ask Jordan.
But back to my second takeaway from Sunday night’s documentary.
How do I convey this without sounding like a crotchety, old man, that walked up hill both ways through five feet of snow to school and back home every day when I was younger? The NBA has changed so much since ‘The Last Dance’ 1997-1998 season that it hardly feels like the same sport. And while I hate to sound like “get off my lawn!” guy… that is what stayed with me the most.
I don’t know if it’s the fact that Pippen was making $3 million in one of his prime seasons, whereas Mike Conley Jr. made over $26 million last season. Or if it was being able to watch a fundamental basketball game again and not a three-point contest.
‘The Last Dance’ reminded us that “load management” is as ridiculous of an excuse to miss a game as it sounds, and it brought us back to when the regular season actually mattered.
It is why I have a difficult time comparing and debating Jordan vs. LeBron James. The eras they played in are so vastly different. Sure, LeBron’s Greek God-like body is incomparable. But MJ has six championship rings. But if we’re going off of titles, wouldn’t Bill Russell and his 11 titles take the cake?
You see? We can spin player vs. player debates for days, years, lifetimes. ‘The Last Dance’ further helped me realize how meaningless it is to compare, rather than simply appreciating their own greatness respectfully in two completely different eras of basketball.
In the end, perhaps it is money that has hurt the NBA. TV contracts are through the roof and average players are making more than ever. Good for them. But as the late, great, radio talk show host Pete Franklin used to say, “money will be the demise of professional sports.”
Perhaps Pete was right, again.
As Portland Trailblazers star point guard Damian Lillard tweeted out on Sunday while watching ‘The Last Dance’ from his official Twitter account @Dame_Lillard, “Mike really was different.”
And unfortunately for NBA fans today, so is the game. Much different.